BEIRUT: Lebanon’s uprising has unquestionably been led by the youth and strictly opposed to the sectarian logic of the Civil War generation. But after clashes overnight Tuesday between youths on the Civil War flashpoint between Ain al-Rummaneh and Chiyah, the older generation stepped in Wednesday to remind their children not to make the same mistakes as they did.
In a demonstration organized by mothers, hundreds of local residents marched between both areas, which lie across an intersection that once divided Christian east and Muslim west Beirut, in rejection of the clashes between area residents the night before.
“We felt that, as mothers, we needed to come tell our kids that they’re not allowed to do this. We lived the war and don’t want them to live it again,” 58-year-old Isabella, a resident of Ain al-Rummaneh, told The Daily Star, without providing her surname.
Similarly, Suzan Abdel-Ridah, a Lebanese University professor and Chiyah resident, said she was in the streets because “no one can take us back to the past.”
“This street was all barricades,” she told The Daily Star, pointing to the multilane road between the two areas. “My husband was born on the other side, but despite this we overcame the barricades and we trampled them. There is no way we’re going back,” she said.
As people gathered, white flowers were handed out. Some women hugged and others cried. One veiled woman was seen with a cross painted on her forehead. “This speaks for itself,” she told The Daily Star. “What I’ve got on my face is the simplest of messages: We are Lebanese.”
The scenes of unity contrasted sharply with the divisive rhetoric witnessed in the area the night before, when youths from both areas threw stones and other objects, forcing the Army to deploy in large numbers. The clashes came after supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement stepped up violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters across Lebanon, with mobs of men attacking demonstrators in Beirut, Baalbeck and Tyre since Sunday.
Chiyah is known to be a support base of Amal, while Ain al-Rummaneh is a stronghold of the Lebanese Forces.
As he stood guard at a roadside with friends late Tuesday night, Wissam, a 34-year-old supermarket owner, said that reconciliation between the two areas had not taken place since the Civil War, “and with most of them, it never will.”
“We don’t want to remain stuck in this reactionary mindset of war and death and blood, we want to live, and it’s our right to live - but they’re pulling us [back],” he said.
The message was very different Wednesday. “We don’t want sectarianism, we want national unity,” the protesters chanted as they marched into Chiyah, welcomed by a large group of men who clapped from the street corner where stones had been thrown the night before.
Some attempts were made to stop the large procession entering Chiyah, however the women at the front persisted and the march went in a couple of hundred meters.
Men and women threw rice at the protesters from balconies, as people hugged each other.
“This is the most beautiful sight in the world,” Mohammad, a burly man in military-style clothes, told The Daily Star as he watched the jubilant crowd from the sidewalk. “This is evidence that we are one people. These aren’t strangers; they are coming to their homes,” he said, without providing his surname.
This sentiment was shared by some of the young men on both sides of the street who had participated in the clashes and stayed guard after they ended.
“Us and Christians are together till death, no one can come between us,” 22-year-old Mohammad Ghaddar told The Daily Star. “We go over there all the time to drink and play poker, but now we are closer than we were before last night.”
On the Ain al-Rummaneh side, 24-year-old actor Simon Jawwous echoed Ghaddar. “Our generation is living coexistence. Because this is Ain al-Rummaneh, there are still sensitivities but maybe today this was broken to a certain extent,” he said.
Jawwous had been one of the hundreds of men who filled the streets the night before, wielding batons and waiting for the worst.
He said that Sunday’s clashes had made it clear that the issue wasn’t Shiite-Christian. Rather, it was an issue of parties trying to rile up sectarian tensions in order to derail the unprecedented uprising that has swept Lebanon for over 40 days.
Things had gotten out of hand Tuesday night, he said, but his generation, who had filled the squares alongside Lebanese of all sects, would not allow things to slip toward open confrontation.
“We are a generation that doesn’t want war. I don’t want to be like my dad, who at 16, was fighting against people he didn’t know,” he said. “What we saw today has warmed my heart.”
But one thing was conspicuously missing from the protests Wednesday: revolution-themed chants.
Instead, the women and men focused on unity between sects, a fact that had already been established when hundreds of thousands took to the streets together at the outset of the uprising.
Rima Majed, a professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, said politicians had long pushed rhetoric of sectarian coexistence to plaster over deep class divides in the country. She warned protesters against falling into the same rhetoric at the expense of focusing on the vast class divides between working people and the ruling class.
“It is important for us at this critical juncture in our history not to fall back in the trap of the vertical [sectarian] divide,” she told The Daily Star. “Unless we keep highlighting the horizontal [class] divide, we cannot fight the sectarian system.”